September 18, 2012
F-35 program officials have set aside a single aircraft for testing only of the Vision Systems International helmet that has plagued the program for more than a year owing to jitter, latency and other operational problems discovered in testing.
The aircraft will be flown on these special helmet missions at NAS Patuxent River, Md., says Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, deputy F-35 program director. Bogdan has been nominated to take the top F-35 post once approved by the Senate, and he made his remarks Sept. 17 at the Air Force Assn. conference here. The testing will take up to 90 days, he says.
After helmet problems were discovered at least a year ago, program officials established a backup plan by contracting with BAE Systems.
Helmet operation is critical because the F-35 design calls for the pilot to operate many of the systems, including weapons, through the visor system. There is no head-up display in the aircraft.
Earmarking an entire aircraft solely for helmet testing demonstrates how important this system is to the eventual fielding of the F-35. The U.S. Marine Corps hopes to declare initial operational capability as soon as 2015, and it cannot do so without a functional and reliable helmet system.
Bogdan says that some features may not be ready for that 2015 date, but emphasizes that the helmet must be able to perform at night, in weather and allow for weapons operations for the Marine Corps to declare IOC.
Though he sees some “glimmers of hope” that production processes are improving, Bogdan notes that F-35 software is up to four months behind schedule. “There is an awful lot of software on this program. It scares the heck out of me,” Bogdan says.
The flight test program is ahead of schedule in terms of planned flights and test points, he says. “From my perspective with the test programs. We are making progress… . I’m not sure we are creating the right progress,” Bogdan says.